Now it’s my turn to do my first blog. I’m Deborah Sazer, the Ecologist for The Grasslands Trust Carmel Reserve, working alongside Charli in Carmarthenshire. Carmel is a wonderful place to work (and visit), with its wide range of underlying geology, soils, habitats and species.
We are working to ‘un-improve’ our semi-improved neutral grassy pastures at Garn and Pwll Edrychiad. They have not received any fertilisers or herbicides for a number of years, but are being grazed by cattle and occasional ponies. We did a baseline survey of the grasslands in 2010, to give us a snapshot of these fields at the beginning of our ‘Beeline’ Project to diversify the grasslands, a partnership between The Grasslands Trust and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, funded by Working with Nature.
Although the fields were fairly uniform and dominated by just a few species of grass such as Yorkshire fog and Sweet vernal grass, there were already signs of wildflowers moving in by themselves, with patches of Yellow rattle, Autumn hawkbit and Common knapweed, along with important nectar sources such as Red clover and Red bartsia. There are also a few species rich spots, including a lovely small bank where the soil is thinner, allowing the underlying limestone to influence the flora, featuring species such as Lady’s mantle, Burnet-saxifrage and Quaking grass (one of my favourites, possibly because it’s so easy to identify with its distinctive seed heads ‘quaking’ in the breeze).
The first step in diversifying the poorer areas was to sow Yellow rattle. This annual plant is semi-parasitic on other plants, particularly grasses and legumes. It is considered a weed by farmers who aim to grow as much nutritious grass as they can for their demanding modern breeds of cattle. But it is a really useful conservation tool to reduce the dominance of grasses and allow room for flowering plants to colonise. Since it is an annual, an early cut before it flowers should reduce or remove it when it is no longer required. It needs frost to germinate, and the winter of 2010/11 was ideal, producing a fantastic spread of yellow rattle across the fields last summer. Charli and the volunteers sowed the rattle on large parts of our Garn semi-improved fields, after contractors had harrowed strips to expose some bare ground. The volunteers also sowed small patches of yellow rattle last year and again this winter, scraping up the ground with rakes before sowing. We shall see whether the rattle is as prolific this year, following the mild winter.
The task for this summer is to collect wildflower seed from the richer parts of our site and sow them on the semi-improved ‘rattle-y’ fields, to provide more nectar and pollen-rich plants for our bees, butterflies and hoverflies. The volunteers did sow small amounts of Knapweed and Devil’s-bit scabious last autumn, which we will repeat later this year, along with some of the limestone-loving flowers such as Wild thyme and Oregano. Watch this space for news of how successful we have been in restoring Carmel’s flowery meadows.